There has been some hassle around the Massachusetts casino project, which the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe is currently developing. Recently the tribe withdrew its request for federal recognition of its land rights issuing a statement.
According to the statement, the tribe will no longer be seeking the opinion of the Department of Interior on whether the land in question qualifies for continued sovereign status – it was taken into trust by the federal government in 2015. In 2016 a federal judge stated that the government has made a mistake by taking it into trust. The land in question consists of 170 acres in Mashpee and 151 acres near East Taunton, and the Tribe has great plans for the acreage near East Taunton.
Residents of East Taunton are not excited about the fact the Tribe is about to build a big resort and casino in such proximity, so this is the reason why they legally challenged it and the federal court blocked the whole process last year. The opinion of the Department of Interior was expected to be publicly issued this Tuesday, but the Tribe has publicly announced it no longer wants it. They announced they are going to appeal the 2015 federal court ruling, following a consultation with the US Department of Interior.
In 2015 lawyer Jonathan Witten stated that only recognized before 1934 tribes could possibly be placed in trust. In the situation of the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, it was not recognized until 2007, which made unclear whether the decision of the Bureau of Indian Affairs could be challenged in court. For the Tribe members, this was a case of deprivation of the chance to fully express its identity as a sovereign nation.
The project which is still in the plans goes by the name of First Light Resort & Casino, and its building was expected to commence in 2016. It is a $500 million resort casino, which has the potential to assert the Tribe’s position in society and preserve their unique culture. The project they proposed includes three hotels, an event center, a water park and a wide assortment of restaurant and retail stores options. It has been supported by Arkana Ltd., Malaysian casino resort investor with strong connections with Genting Group.
The Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe signed a contract with the casino operator Genting Malaysia for seven years. However, the complicated situation made the Malaysian company warn investors there is a chance it could lose its investment of $274 million in promissory notes. They are issued by the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribal Gaming Authority, but the operator has also nearly $25 million in projected interest income on those notes.